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Leaving or Staying When You Get Contracted

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Q: When there’s a contraction around a person or situation, how do you know when it’s time to move away, without trying to change the person or situation, or when looking at your own aversions, judgments, or self-sabotage is called for instead?

A: The truth is whatever opens your Heart or expands your sense of self. In contrast, something less true will cause a sense of contraction. If we expand this definition a bit, the truth is whatever opens the most Hearts of the people involved for the greatest amount of time. Not just your Heart, but the Hearts of everyone involved are responding to any unfolding situation or interaction.

So in response to your question, staying in a situation and examining your aversions and judgments makes sense when that leads to a bigger experience of truth within yourself and within those involved. On the other hand, if staying in a situation causes you or others to contract even more, then leaving that situation makes more sense. To effectively question your own reactions and aversions, you may first have to leave a situation. If you are already contracted, then any inquiry you do while you are in that situation may not go very deep.

You can’t know in advance if any inquiry you do will lead to an expansion of awareness or not. You just have to try doing some exploration and inquiry within yourself or with the other person and see how it goes. The good news is that there’s no harm done if you end up more contracted, because awareness isn’t harmed by contraction. If contraction continues, you can leave the situation and do the inquiry in a more conducive setting. I hope it goes without saying that if a situation is dangerous or abusive, first protect yourself or leave the situation and then do any inquiry in a safer setting.

More generally, whenever two people interact, there are two possibilities. One is that both people are equally contracted or equally expanded. This is a comfortable and stable situation, making it easy for both people to be around each other. The other possibility is that one person is more expanded than the other. When this occurs, the more contracted person tends to feel a kind of discomfort, while the more expanded person is usually okay with the difference. This discomfort often causes the contracted person to try to get the expanded person to contract by criticizing, teasing, confronting, or possibly even by being overly complimentary. These are generally unconscious reactions to the discomfort the contracted person is feeling in the presence of someone who is more expanded.

When you are in a more expanded state than someone else you’re with, it doesn’t serve anyone for you to become more contracted. The effect of your expanded awareness can be an opportunity for a less expanded person to expand. If you find you can easily stay expanded, and some expansion in the other person is happening or seems likely to happen, then it might be true to stay in the interaction. However, if there’s little or no chance that the person who is contracted and trying to get you to contract (consciously or unconsciously) is going to expand, little can be gained from staying in the interaction and risking that you will also end up contracted.

Burning Down the House....or Not?

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Someone sent the following message to me on Facebook:

I’ve come to believe, (aside from the grace/lottery that some people get where their whole world crumbles and reveals what’s beyond the indivividual personality, the abiding non dual awareness), that one has to ignite one’s own world on fire. For that, it’s like we need matches, or the burning will to do so. What other thing could drive the individual to it’s own demise than this kind of madness, nearly a disgust for that which is not true. What's not “permanent”, not of the essence.

Since we cannot know where we are heading, but we can know what we are turning away from… This seems like a very important thing to look at. My question is then, can you recommend anyway of igniting this whole thing? I don’t seem to have the existential crisis that so many of the masters I respect have had. And I find it so strange that very few speak of this peeling off, unpleasant process as an essential part of their rebirth!

Here is the message I sent in return:

This is a very good question. My own sense is that there really is no formula for spiritual awakening. For some people, there is a kind of crumbling of their world that leads to a deeper opening. And for others, life just unfolds gracefully and easefully into the depths of their Being. And of course some people's lives crumble and they are only traumatized by the experience, and other people experience so much ease and comfort that they never even question very deeply.

So in answer to your question about how to ignite a burning, I would suggest a more general approach of being very curious and accepting of whatever is arising. Often when we try to ignite things or even when we try to stop the crumbling or burning, we only interfere with the deeper intelligence that actually knows the way things need to go. But by being curious and present to what is happening, you can allow the process to unfold in the most natural way.

This does mean being very curious and aware when a burning or crumbling or any kind of difficulty or challenge arises. But it is equally fruitful to be intensely curious about the easy and fun moments when life unfolds abundantly and delightfully. And finally you can inquire into and explore the ordinary moments when life is maybe a little boring or predictable.

This attitude of a gentle touching of experience just as it is already happening means that when a burning desire for the truth does arise, you have developed the capacity to stay with that experience all of the way. However it is not your job to set the whole house on fire. Fortunately, it turns out that every other experience is equally a doorway into the depths of your Being. Why miss all of the richness and many flavors of Being that are presenting themselves when life is easy or ordinary?

I hope this helps.

Moving Beyond Control

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Someone wrote me:

I think that control is bad and that wanting to control everything in one's life is bad. Wanting to make things happen a certain way is cause for suffering and is an attachment. I got this from my dad who is a control freak and wants everything to work his way and he is constantly fighting for it and efforting his way at whatever endeavor he takes up. And he makes a lot of headway but at the end of it, things get screwed up and I guess I always saw his need to control the conditions in his life as cause for suffering.

However, I want to control things in my life. I want to control myself and break my bad habits. I want to make certain things happen a certain way. but there is resistance as I don't want to have to go through the suffering that comes with that need to control that I saw in my dad. I guess I feel that loss and suffering always follows that drive to make things happen and to control one's conditions in life.

I was hoping that you could help me reconcile one's ability to make things happen and to be the cause and effect of one's life without being afraid of the potential loss and suffering that may come from that.

And I responded:

Sorry to take a while to get back to you. Your question is a good one. It would be easier if there were a simple answer to the whole question of control. If trying to control was really just a bad thing, then we all would have given it up a long time ago!

But trying to control is a natural impulse because it works sometimes. It turns out that something only has to work sometimes in order for a behavior to be reinforced. In psychology, they call this an intermittent reward, and it is a more powerful reinforcement than a constant reward. So it is natural that we try to control things, even though it only occasionally works and therefore more often leads to wasted effort and even suffering.

The whole truth of control includes both the times it works and the times it doesn't. It includes the experiences of relative success and failure. We are both in control and out of control. That is the nature of duality on this level of reality. However, that is still not the whole truth about the experience of control.

If we are not completely in control, then what is? Is life really just a bunch of random events including the random interactions of a bunch of apparent beings with some free will all trying to control things, but only succeeding sometimes? Or is there also a bigger, wiser Presence that affects what happens? What if there is a Divine Intelligence that is unfolding life? Are we in control or out of control then?

There is a deeper wisdom that is behind all of the events of life. It knows what really needs to happen, and mostly manages to succeed. I say mostly because it is an aspect of our infinite, eternal nature and so it is not really in a hurry to get anywhere. It likes the surprises and twists and turns that apparent egos bring to the drama of life, so it lets them interfere to a degree. This is because it knows that no harm can really be done and also because it eventually finds a way to get where it is going anyways.

A friend of mine had one of those navigation systems in his car that spoke out loud and told you where to turn. I asked him what happens if you don't turn when it tells you to. He said that for a while it would try to get you to turn around and then turn where you should have. However, he also said that if you don't even do that, it would then calculate a whole new route to where you were headed and start giving you directions based on your having not turned. This deeper intelligence is like that. It lets you succeed or fail at trying to control things, and then it picks up from there and makes what really needs to happen happen.

So there is a dynamic interplay between the capacity of our ego to control things and the capacity of Being to control things. What a formula for surprises and mystery and drama! And then there are all of the other apparent people trying to control things also! What a crazy dance!

In seeing the bigger truth of our efforts to control, there can be a natural loosening of our grip on the steering wheel of life. Why try so hard to control everything when there are so many forces at play? You may not give up entirely, but it can put your efforts in perspective. They are natural, but they are not that important. You still can steer to the best of your ability, but then you let go of the results. Sometimes you get where you wanted to go and sometimes you don't. Sometimes you even end up somewhere better than where you wanted to go!

There is one more level to this question of control. In efforting, we sometimes succeed and sometimes fail, but we always develop our capacity for effort. If you think about it, weight lifters always ultimately fail: the weights always end up back where they started. But in lifting the weights up only to have gravity return them to the starting position again and again, they develop their muscle's capacity to lift weight.

Maybe the ego and all of its efforts at control are just a necessary developmental stage. Once it has gone as far as it can with its own efforts, it reaches a point where it can only go further by surrendering. And yet that is not something it can do. The ego can only experience the dilemma of its impulse to effort and its seeing of the futility of effort until something else moves that we call surrender. The development of our capacity to effort does not cause the surrender to happen, but it can allow us to stay with the experience until surrender happens.

When we effort to control things, we may not succeed and yet our inner capacity to focus and effort has been developed. As some point when we start to see the whole truth about control, then we may stop trying so hard to change what happens. But we can still use the capacity we have developed to be very present and profoundly aware of what is happening, including the moments when surrender arises. We can use our capacity to effort to be more present to what is. At first, it can seem odd to try to have things just the way they already are, but there is a richness that can be revealed when we actively engage our experience without trying to change it.

What is here beyond your own effort? What is here right now that does not need to be controlled? How is it to hold these questions with the same amount of effort you might have used to control things? Not necessarily to get an answer, but just because the questions are here. In just holding the questions without trying for an answer, another dimension of experience can sometimes be revealed that is full of peace, joy and love. This is not a place of no control or a place of control. it is something that opens up beyond the whole experience of control.

It is here that the suffering from our efforts to control is truly resolved into an enjoyment of the whole dance of our life. Loss is just one more twist and turn in the dance. Effort is just done for the sake of moving and dancing. There is nowhere to go and nowhere to not go, nothing to do and nothing to not do.

I hope this helps.

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Nothing Personal leads you to the experience of your true nature and helps you explore its depth. Through exposition, questions and dialogues, it brings you to a place of realization of the Truth: you are the spacious Awareness in which everything appears.

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